By Amin Kef (Ranger)
In the wake of a pre-election solidarity mission undertaken in Sierra Leone by the West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS), Kojo Asante, the Acting Network Coordinator of the organization expressed concerns and shared observations during a press conference held at Radisson Blu Hotel in Aberdeen on the ….. .
The mission, conducted from May 15 to 18,2023, aimed at supporting democratic processes and enhancing the credibility of the upcoming presidential, parliamentary, mayoral, and local council elections scheduled for June 24, 2023.
WADEMOS engaged with various stakeholders throughout the mission, including the Human Rights Commission, the Office of National Security (ONS), the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the Political Parties Regulations Commission (PPRC), political parties, the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL), and the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion (ICPNC). These engagements provided valuable insights into the socio-political and electoral landscape, as well as the level of preparedness for the upcoming elections.
While recognizing Sierra Leone’s democratic achievements in the past 21 years since the end of the civil war in 2002, WADEMOS commended the comprehensive electoral reforms implemented, including the passage of the Political Parties Regulations Commission Act and the Public Elections Act of 2022, which have played a vital role in strengthening the democratic process.
The mission also acknowledged the commendable efforts of various organizations at the national, regional, and international levels in promoting peace and national cohesion in Sierra Leone, encouraging them to continue their initiatives during and after the elections.
Furthermore, WADEMOS recognized the progress made in enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment through the implementation of the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) Act of 2021, which mandates a minimum of one-third female candidates nominated by political parties to increase women’s participation in politics.
Regarding security preparations, Asante highlighted the mission’s appreciation for the comprehensive measures undertaken to ensure a secure electoral process. The Office of National Security (ONS) coordinated election security through the Integrated Election Security Committee, conducted thorough threat assessments, and implemented strategies to combat misinformation and disinformation. The training of security personnel was also acknowledged as a crucial investment in maintaining a safe environment on election day.
However, the mission identified several challenges and concerns that need to be addressed to ensure a smooth electoral process. These challenges include a high level of political mistrust among key actors, the growing use of hate speech in political discourse, particularly on social media platforms, difficulties in compiling the voter register, concerns regarding results management, communication gaps between the ECSL and political parties, compliance with the GEWE Act, security arrangements impacting voter participation, and the need for enhanced voter education on the proportional representation (PR) system and other electoral processes.
WADEMOS also expressed concern about the timing of the elections coinciding with the rainy season. This could pose logistical challenges and potentially impact voter turnout, particularly for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.
In response to the challenges highlighted by WADEMOS, the stakeholders in Sierra Leone must come together and address these concerns to ensure the success of the upcoming elections. Political actors should prioritize building trust and fostering a constructive political environment that encourages healthy dialogue and discourages hate speech.
Efforts should be made to streamline the process of compiling the voter register, ensuring its accuracy and inclusivity. Transparent and efficient results management systems need to be implemented to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. Close coordination between the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) and political parties is essential to address any communication gaps and ensure a smooth flow of information.
Moreover, compliance with the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) Act should be emphasized to increase the participation of women in politics. This can be achieved by supporting female candidates and promoting their visibility and leadership within political parties.
Security arrangements must be meticulously planned and implemented to create a safe and secure environment for voters on election day. Adequate training and resources should be provided to security personnel to ensure they are well-prepared to handle any challenges that may arise.
Additionally, voter education programs should be enhanced to familiarize citizens with the proportional representation (PR) system and other electoral processes. This will empower voters to make informed choices and actively participate in shaping the country’s future.
The concerns raised by WADEMOS regarding the timing of the elections coinciding with the rainy season should not be overlooked. Contingency plans and logistical arrangements should be put in place to mitigate any adverse effects, ensuring that individuals with disabilities and the elderly are not disadvantaged and can exercise their right to vote.
As the June 24 elections approach, the commitment of all stakeholders is paramount. Political leaders, civil society organizations, and citizens must collaborate to create an environment that upholds democratic values, fosters inclusivity, and guarantees a transparent electoral process.
Sierra Leone has made significant strides in its democratic journey since the end of the civil war, and it is crucial to build upon these achievements. By addressing the challenges highlighted by WADEMOS and working together, Sierra Leone can reinforce its commitment to democracy and ensure that the upcoming elections are free, fair, and peaceful.
The West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS) stands ready to support Sierra Leone in its democratic processes and reaffirms its commitment to promoting democracy and supporting civil society in the country. With concerted efforts, Sierra Leone can overcome these challenges and continue on its path of progress and development.